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Hydria (Water Jar)

A terracotta jar, wider at the top with a narrow neck and small handles, decorated in black, featuring human figures against red. One wrestles at center with a merman, creating a mass of tangled limbs, the creature's tail dominating the left portion of the scene.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • A terracotta jar, wider at the top with a narrow neck and small handles, decorated in black, featuring human figures against red. One wrestles at center with a merman, creating a mass of tangled limbs, the creature's tail dominating the left portion of the scene.

Date:

about 515/500 BCE

Artist:

Attributed to a painter of the Leagros group
Greek; Athens

About this artwork

This large handled jar held the water used to dilute large quantities of wine in preparation for the Greek symposium. It was considered uncivilized for a Greek to consume undiluted wine, so water was fetched from a public fountain house in a jar like this one. The horizontal handles made it easier to carry, while the vertical handle at the back was used for pouring.

On the front of this vase, the hero Hercules wrestles Triton - the messenger of the sea who is depicted as a merman - as a man and a woman look on. They are likely Nereus and Triton’s mother Amphitrite, but we cannot be certain. The intricate composition has the Greek hero astride the monster, his arms locked around Triton’s neck in an implacable grip, while Triton flails his arms, black fingers stretched against the red background. They face different directions-Herakles to the viewers’ right and up, victorious, and Triton to the left and down, vanquished. Precise incision renders the outline and details of the lion skin that Herakles wears, as well as the contour and detail of Triton’s scales and fins. Above this scenethe artist has written kalo[s]p[u]this – or "Pythis [is] beautiful"; exactly who Pythis is is another mystery.

On the shoulder of the vessel, the area above the front scene on the flat surface between the handles, another mythological scene plays out. This time it is the judgement of Paris, in which the handsome youth must judge a beauty contest between three goddesses - Aphrodite, Hera and Athena (shown seated). Aphrodite famously wins the contest by promising Paris the love of the most beautiful woman in the world. The woman in question turns out to be Helen of Troy, whose love affair with Paris would set in motion the deadly Trojan war.

On View

Arts of the Ancient Mediterranean and Byzantium, Gallery 151

Culture

Ancient Greek

Title

Hydria (Water Jar)

Origin

Athens

Date

515 BCE–500 BCE

Medium

terracotta, decorated in the black-figure technique

Inscriptions

kalo[s]p[u]this ("Pythis [is] beautiful")

Dimensions

50.1 × 35 cm (19 3/4 × 13 3/4 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Philip D. Armour and Charles L. Hutchinson

Reference Number

1889.15

Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.

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